ALBION — Brexit Corona Days
A docudrama by Andy Ross
Jon Conway returned to England after decades in Germany and joined the Conservative party. Then the prime minister decided
to hold a referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU. Leavers won and Jon watched Britain sink into chaos. Years
of absurd shenanigans and a third prime minister later, Jon realised the awful truth. But it was too late.
Albion was sunk, Brexit got done, the Coronavirus crisis struck, and a new era began.
AR Text in preparation — due later this year.
Wer rechnen kann und ein
Zahlenverständnis hat, ist dem
Schwindel der Statistik nicht
wehrlos ausgesetzt. Das ist in
der Corona-Krise nützlich.
Sir Keir Starmer elected
as new Labour leader
2020 April 5
UK: A Better Future
Under my leadership, the Labour Party will be a responsible opposition. I will fundamentally disagree with the prime minister.
But Labour can and must engage constructively with the government.
The coronavirus is a national emergency. The public is placing an enormous trust in the government at the moment.
It is vital that that trust is met with openness and transparency about its mistakes and the decisions that have been made:
1 We are far behind on testing. We must make sure the promise of 100,000 tests a day is delivered
and that these tests reach those who need them most, including frontline NHS staff.
2 Success requires the UK to have a comprehensive national vaccine program in place so that the minute
a vaccine becomes available we can begin to protect the entire population.
3 The government must listen to frontline NHS and care workers. We have heard too many stories of staff
unable to get the equipment they need to keep them safe or to care for patients.
4 We need an exit strategy. We should know what it is, when the restrictions might be lifted, and what
the plan is for economic recovery to protect those who have been hardest hit.
There will be many more difficult days ahead. We must build a fairer, more equal society. There can be no return to business
This crisis has highlighted the desperate fragility of the UK safety net and the unfairness of a broken system: from our
chronically underfunded NHS and care service to a woefully inadequate social security system and the lack of protection for self-employed
and small businesses.
Labour will make the argument for a better future. I promise to do my utmost.
Germany and Coronavirus
In the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, key policy areas, including health, fall under the jurisdiction of the 16 Länder.
German public health services are provided by about 400 public health offices, run by municipality and rural district administrations.
At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, Angela Merkel could only make recommendations that the federal states were free to
implement or ignore. Yet Germany is now being held up as the model to be emulated for its high rates of testing.
Around 250 laboratories are carrying out 300 000−500 000 tests for Covid-19 every week, largely autonomously.
Some started offering tests long before health insurers offered to pay for them, giving Germany a head start.
AR The NHS is far too centralized.
2020 April 4
A Crisis Like No Other
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns imposed by governments on both sides of the Atlantic have pushed the global economy into the sharpest
downturn since the Great Depression. IMF head Kristalina Georgieva: "This is a crisis like no other. Never in the history of the IMF we
have witnessed the world economy coming to a standstill. It is way worse than the global financial crisis."
Coronavirus in America
On March 6, Imperial College London epidemiologists gave a White House briefing. They said if nothing was done to halt the spread of Covid-19,
within weeks it would infect 81% of the US population and kill 2.2 million Americans.
On the same day, President Trump toured the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
offices in Atlanta. On the epidemic: "All I say is: Be calm."
On March 31, he said America was in for a "very, very painful two weeks" and should be prepared "for the hard days that lie ahead".
This is the worst public health disaster in America in a century.
AR Obama would have handled it better.
A Turning Point in History
The crisis through which we are living is a turning point in history. Globalization has peaked. The task ahead is to build economies and societies that
improve on the anarchy of the global market.
The virus has exposed fatal weaknesses in the economic system of liberal capitalism. When the economy restarts, it will be in a world
where governments act to curb the global market. Economic expansion can only worsen climate change and turn the planet into a garbage dump.
The most successful responses to the epidemic thus far have been in Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. China has responded to the
pandemic by expanding the surveillance state and introducing stronger political control.
The EU has responded to the crisis by revealing its essential weakness. If it survives, it may be as something like the Holy Roman
Empire in its later years. Russia supplies natural gas to EU states and can use energy as a political weapon.
In Trump America, with an all-time high jobless rate, a decentralized system of government, a ruinously expensive healthcare system
that leaves millions uncovered, a colossal prison population, and cities filled with homeless people, curtailing the shutdown could mean the virus
spreading uncontrollably, with devastating effects.
The US position in the world has changed irreversibly. The global order set in place at the end of WW2 is fast unraveling. The virus
has hastened a process of disintegration that has been under way for many years.
What we call an apocalypse is the normal course of history. Covid-19 shows that humans are still part of the biosphere. Technology
will help us adapt, but the virus shows progress is reversible.
AR True so far, imho.
Chinese national flag, Tiananmen Square, Beijing
European economic activity
crashes: The EZ composite
PMI index of services and
manufacturing fell from
51.6 in February to 29.7
in March, its lowest ever.
The UK index fell from
53.2 to 34.5.
THE STANDARD MODEL
WHO Health System
Inside Luftwaffe medevac
2020 April 3
Coronavirus and Democracy
Karolina Wigura, Jarosław Kuisz
Closing national borders during the pandemic may have been a rational health response, but the longer-term political consequences are troubling.
Italy closed its borders on 10 March, when the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases had already exceeded 10 000. Over the next five days,
Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary closed their borders one after the other, even though by that time in any of them the number of
confirmed cases had not reached 100.
Suspending free movement is understandable. Leaders naturally wanted to act quickly to avoid an Italian scenario in their lands. But
the way the Schengen provisions were suspended in central and eastern Europe is telling.
For decades, the states in central and eastern Europe suffered cyclical collapse, loss of sovereignty, and existential threat from
totalitarian systems. They chose to join NATO and the EU to guarantee their safety and stability.
The brain drain of doctors has damaged many healthcare systems in the region. Closing the borders has led to relief in the pandemic.
Authoritarian populists already see the emergency as a win for the nation-state over a helpless EU.
In Hungary, Viktor Orbán has been allowed to rule by decree during this state of emergency without any clear time limit and with
special measures include jail terms for spreading misinformation.
In Poland, the government changed the electoral law overnight to let presidential elections go ahead in May, hoping the only candidate
able to run a campaign is current president Andrzej Duda.
A quarantine that lasts for weeks or months will only consolidate the illiberal order.
Particle Mass Puzzle
Three progressively heavier copies of each type of matter particle exist, and no one knows why. A new paper by Steven Weinberg takes a stab at
explaining the pattern.
Electrons and two types of quarks, dubbed up and down, mix in various ways to produce every atom in existence.
But this family of matter particles is only the first of three generations of particles, each heavier than the last. The second-
and third-generation particles transform quickly into their lighter counterparts, but they otherwise behave identically.
The Standard Model does not predict why each particle has the mass that it does. The electron mass is 0.5 MeV, the muon mass is 105 MeV,
and the tau particle mass is 1776 MeV. Similarly, the up and down quarks in the first generation are lightweights, the charm and strange quarks in
the second quark generation are middleweights, and the top and bottom quarks in the third generation are heavy, with the top at 173 GeV.
The third-generation particles all weigh thousands of MeV, second-generation particles weigh roughly hundreds of MeV, and
first-generation particles come in at around an MeV each. As you go each level down, they get much lighter.
In the Standard Model, the mass of each particle corresponds to how much it feels the Higgs field. Top quarks are heavy because they
feel drag as they move through the Higgs field, but electrons fly through it. How each particle feels the field is an intrinsic attribute of the
The top quark mass happens to be roughly the same as the average energy of the Higgs field, so we can guess that only the top quark
moves through the field in the standard way.
The other particles feel the Higgs field indirectly. Quantum uncertainty lets particles materialize for brief moments. These form
clouds of virtual particles around real ones. Virtual top quarks crowding around a muon could make it feel the Higgs field by means of a mutual
interaction with some new particle. But because the exposure is indirect, the muon stays much lighter than the top.
A second round of this game of quantum relay makes the electron lighter again, explaining the rough generational spacing of thousands,
hundreds, and a few MeV of mass.
Weinberg considers a variety of ways this relay game could work. He says the entire third generation of matter particles can feel the
Higgs field. Mass trickles down to the second and first generations via interactions with virtual particles.
The proposal is only a rough sketch, but it may spark new ideas.
AR A plausible hint.
2020 April 2
1M Cases Worldwide, 5K Deaths in US
More than 5,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
About a million people are infected worldwide.
Nature and Markets
Thomas L. Friedman
The coronavirus spread in America because President Trump looked at the problem through the lens of the markets first and the science of
natural systems second.
Nature was not impressed by Trump or his markets. Nature is just chemistry, biology, and physics. Do not mess with Nature.
But that is exactly what Trump did initially with the coronavirus and is trying to do still with climate change.
As we do battle with the coronavirus, it is vital that we keep in mind just how much more destructive climate change could
be for all of us. Climate change doesn't peak and then flatten out so normal life resumes. When the ice melts, it's gone forever.
The first rule of scientists for climate change mitigation is also the first rule for public health officials of Covid-19
mitigation: Manage the unavoidable so that you can avoid the unmanageable.
Germany 100K: Britain 8K
Disgracefully, that's how many tests each country does a day. The reason for the difference? Efficient Teutonic planning and a ruthless
determination to work together.
AR Breaking news: Matt Hancock sets 100K goal for UK.
Coronavirus and Brexit
Covid-19 has halted Brexit negotiations and infected the lead negotiators. All Whitehall capacity is being spent on the immediate crisis.
Covid-19 has already ravaged conservative orthodoxy. Fiscal discipline is gone. A few more weeks of lockdown and Brexit hardliners
might be persuaded to rubber-stamp a second year of transition.
Boris Johnson was elected to get Brexit done. If there is one person in Britain capable of serving hard Brexiteers something
softer while claiming the taste is the same, Johnson is that man.
Coronavirus makes Brexit look small.
2020 April 1
UN: Worst Crisis Since WW2
The New York Times, 1511 UTC
The S&P 500 fell nearly 4% in early trading, extending its losses from March (12.5% drop, the worst month for stocks since 2008). Harvard economist
Kenneth S. Rogoff: "This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years. I feel like the 2008
financial crisis was just a dry run for this."
White House charts show death projections of 100,000−240,000 Americans even if the US abides by stringent social restrictions
that choke the economy and impoverish millions. President Trump: "I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead."
Quantum mechanics is silent about how system states collapse from probabilities to certainties. But recent experiments have let us see collapse as it
happens. The results could lead to a new theory of quantum measurement.
The Schrödinger equation describes a wave function that lets you calculate the odds on which of the various possible properties
you get if you measure a quantum object.
John von Neumann said the wave function collapses when that the selection of a single outcome on measurement from all the possibilities
happens randomly and instantaneously, with odds predicted from the Schrödinger equation. He said so as a way of getting unique results.
A recent experiment to probe quantum measurement relies on quantum trajectory theory (QTT). Nothing in QTT deviates from regular quantum
mechanics, but it can describe the way quantum objects interact with their environment, via decoherence, and get jostled by the environment in return
A team used superconducting qubits to build an artificial atom and watch it jumping from one energy state to another. They used microwaves
to excite their atom, then watched it emit microwave photons as it returned to its ground state.
The atom kept jumping to the excited state and then, under the influence of the back-action caused by probing it, falling back down again.
It only stuck in the excited state when a true quantum jump occurred. The team tracked this jiggling back and forth.
The team saw a quantum jump unfolding over time. The jumps occurred at random moments, but there was a precursor signal when one was
imminent: the jiggling caused by quantum back-action became unusually quiescent. Given this advance warning, the team fired microwaves at the qubits
to catch and reversed the jump as it was taking place.
The quantum jumps experiment was monitoring the collapse. As the artificial atom was continually driven toward an excited state,
measurement kept collapsing it to the ground state. The result shows collapse is a physical process that can be seen as it unfolds.
The work even raises the prospect of avoiding collapse altogether while making a measurement. This would mean controlling the interactions
of a quantum entity with the environment so carefully that there is negligible back-action and minimal disturbance. The measurement would probe the
system at the Heisenberg limit.
The notion of wave function collapse is a crude way of talking about the change that occurs when a quantum system gets entangled with its
A team performed an ideal kind of quantum measurement that doesn't destroy the quantum state but shifts it to another state that can be
measured again. Superpositions are normally destroyed by measurement, but they can survive such an ideal measurement. The team saw a gradual change
in state rather than an abrupt collapse.
The challenge now is to build a theory of quantum measurement.
AR A big challenge.
My beach on the last morning of March 2020
takes a shower
2020 March 31
The Verdict of History
After a lifetime of avoiding responsibility and accountability, President Donald Trump has met his match in the pandemic of 2020. His bluff
and bluster are powerless as thousands of Americans die and the blame falls, in part, on his failure to heed the warnings and execute a
robust national response.
This occurred even though a pandemic playbook had been left behind by the Obama administration. Catastrophic consequences now
face the nation as Covid-19 overwhelms health care systems and brings the economy to a standstill.
Trump's profound personal shortcomings helped bring us to this moment. The first of his weaknesses is a lack of emotional
intelligence and empathy that causes him to struggle to relate to human suffering. The second is a habit of mind that discounts expertise
and elevates convenient opinions supported by cherry-picked misinformation.
Trump knows this moment will establish his reputation in perpetuity. Last week he said "the history books will never forget"
America's response to the coronavirus. The coronavirus is the defining challenge of his presidency and of his life.
The verdict of history will be devastating.
A Wake-up Call
Human progress was slowing before this pandemic began and will continue to slow down after it has ended. The alternative to slowdown is unimaginably
bad. If we do not slow down, we will wreck the planet we live on.
Prior to this pandemic, the four great exceptions to slower growth were: university graduates enrolled worldwide, consumption of
goods, carbon pollution, and air flights. The pandemic has slowed them all down.
2020 March 30
Coronavirus: The Trump Gamble
Donald Trump is betting that the number of Americans who die of Covid-19 will be low. His chances of re-election hinge on how severely
the pandemic hits America.
Trump is gambling on the basis not of calculated risk but of total uncertainty. Pandemics are governed by a power law.
Covid-19 could kill 40,000 Americans, or it could kill 400,000. Small changes to the variables in an epidemiological model can produce
mortality projections that
differ by an order of magnitude.
Trump is gambling with American lives. The one thing to be said in his defense is that he too will be at risk if this gamble
Coronavirus and Science Denial
Donald Trump rose to power with the assistance of religious Republicans. Their denial of science and critical thinking now haunts the US response
to the coronavirus crisis.
Trump tends to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change. He hopes America will be "opened up and
just raring to go by Easter." Many of his evangelical allies are pleased by his vision of "packed churches all over our country."
Religious nationalism has brought to American politics the conviction that US political differences are a battle between absolute
evil and absolute good. Only a heroic leader, free from the scruples of political correctness, can save the righteous from the damned.
Christian nationalism played a major role in creating and promoting the economic foundations of the incompetent US response to
Coronavirus and Europe
Adam Tooze, Moritz Schularick
Covid-19 might yet break up the Eurozone. The coronavirus crisis is a fiscal rather than monetary challenge. It strikes at the central weakness
of the EZ: No mechanism exists for members to respond jointly to the shock. The policy reactions are national, accentuating differences and
causing responses to diverge.
Germany reacted forcefully to Covid-19. Italy does not have the same fiscal leeway. The Italian public debt ratio will soon
approach 150% of GDP. Without EZ solidarity, Italy is at risk of an economic depression on top of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The ECB announced a new program of asset purchases to stabilize European markets. Yet once the markets were calmed, EZ members
turned back to national rescue packages. They need a joint bond to raise funds.
2020 March 29
Coronavirus in the US
On January 20, 2020, a man who had recently returned from a visit to Wuhan, China, became the first American to be diagnosed with Covid-19.
On the same day, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in South Korea.
In the two months since then, the responses to coronavirus in the United States and South Korea have been polar opposites.
One country acted swiftly and aggressively to detect and isolate the virus, and by doing so has largely contained the crisis.
The other country dithered and procrastinated, became mired in chaos and confusion, was distracted by the individual whims of its leader,
and is now confronted by a health emergency of daunting proportions.
Within a week of its first confirmed case, the SK disease control agency had summoned 20 private companies to a summit and told
them to develop a test for the virus, fast. A week later, the first diagnostic test was approved and went into battle, identifying infected
individuals who could then be quarantined to halt the advance of the disease.
Almost 360,000 tests later, the SK coronavirus war was won. On Friday only 91 new cases were reported in a country of more than
The US response tells a different story. In the absence of sufficient test kits, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) initially kept a tight rein on testing, creating a bottleneck. President Trump proposed a 16% cut in CDC funding on February 10, just
11 days after the WHO had declared a public health emergency over Covid-19.
In the wake of the testing disaster came the personal protective equipment (PPE) disaster, the hospital bed disaster, and now the
Ventilators are in short supply across the country. When governors asked for help, Trump replied on March 16: "Respirators,
ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves."
Former USAid disaster response leader Jeremy Konyndyk: "We are witnessing in the United States one of the greatest failures
of basic governance and basic leadership in modern times."
Excess Deaths in Trump America
President Trump: "Look, you're going to lose a number of people to the flu. But you're going to lose more people by putting the country into a
massive recession or depression."
White House advisor Stephen Moore: "You can't have a policy that says we're going to save every human life at any cost, no matter
how many trillions of dollars you're talking about."
An economy is nothing but human beings. Recessions and depressions aren't the problem: People sicken or die only if they can't
eat, keep a roof over their heads, or get needed medical care.
AR America needs to take care of its citizens.
German coronavirus testing station
Taylor Swift paints
Coronavirus in Germany
German schools, shops, restaurants, and theaters are closed. Gatherings of more than two people are banned. The economy will shrink, jobs will
As of Saturday, of the 56,202 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 403 patients have died. Over twice as many people have died in
Britain, where there are around three times fewer confirmed cases.
The first case in Germany was recorded on January 28. Within two days, the authorities identified the person who had infected him,
tracked his contacts, and quarantined them. The company stopped travel to China and shut down its plant in Bavaria. The outbreak was
Across the country, the pattern was repeated. Local health departments and federal authorities worked together to test, track,
and quarantine exposed citizens.
Germany has also protected its older residents. States banned visits to the elderly, and policymakers issued urgent warnings to
limit contact with older people. Patients over the age of 80 make up 7% of the population but only 3% of the infected.
Many more young people in Germany have tested positive for the virus than in other countries. In part, this is due to more
extensive testing. Countries that test less and reserve it for those already very ill, like Italy, have higher fatality rates.
Frankfurt virologist Martin Stürmer: "It's how much and whom we test."
UK Intensive Care
The UK mortality rate for patients in intensive care after infection with Covid-19 is close to 50%.
ICNARC audited 775 people who have been or are in critical care with the disease,
across 285 intensive care units. Of the 165 patients who completed critical care treatment in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland since the end of
February, 79 died and 86 survived. The remaining 610 patients are still in intensive care.
The NHS is opening field hospitals in London, Birmingham, and Manchester, with some of the biggest critical care units ever seen
Most of those who have died from coronavirus across the UK were over 70. For patients between 16 and 49 in intensive care, 9 died
and 28 survived.
Among Covid-19 ICU patients, 70% were male. Of ICU patients under 60, 30% are men and 15% are women. Over 70% of ICU patients were
overweight or obese.
A Conservative MP who works in the NHS says frontline health service staff who have no symptoms of Covid-19 but who might still be
infected should be tested to prevent the crisis getting worse.
Former health minister Dan Poulter: "NHS staff sickness levels are already high, and they are only going to increase as the Covid-19
outbreak intensifies. Many of us are also worried that we may be infected, yet asymptomatic .. That is the last thing that we would want, but we
simply do not know. Widespread NHS staff testing would be a game-changer."
Coronavirus in the UK
Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton: "It's a national scandal. We shouldn't be in this position. We knew in the last week of January that this
was coming. The message from China was absolutely clear, that a new virus, with pandemic potential, was hitting cities. People were being
admitted to hospital, admitted to intensive care units, and dying. And the mortality was growing. We knew that eleven weeks ago."
2020 March 28
Carnage in America
The New York Times
More than 100,000 people in the United States have now been infected with the coronavirus. The national death toll so far is over 1,500.
The number of known cases has risen rapidly in recent days, as testing ramped up after weeks of widespread shortages and delays.
On Friday, President Trump signed into law a $2 trillion measure designed to respond to the pandemic.
Swedish industrialist Jacob Wallenberg warns governments to weigh the economic threat from coronavirus more heavily and not lose sight of the impact
of containment measures on businesses:
"There will be no recovery. There will be social unrest. There will be violence. There will be socio-economic consequences: dramatic
unemployment. Citizens will suffer dramatically: some will die, others will feel awful .. One of these days there is a tomorrow."
Wallenberg says elderly people should be protected more, perhaps by being placed in mandatory quarantine, but there should be
discussion on how to return to a vibrant society with a rich cultural offering and lively restaurants:
"Authorities are all working very hard to help society. They are not looking around the corner as much. They are not taking the
longer-term perspective. This is something that is very important for society and for the EU."
AR Some truth here: The hangover from all this will be dire.
2020 March 27
UK Government Contagion
The Guardian, 1938 UTC
UK prime minister Boris Johnson and UK health secretary Matt Hancock are in isolation after tests showed they are infected with Covid-19,
and UK chief medical officer Chris Whitty is in isolation with symptoms of infection.
We are entering a recession on the advice of public health experts. To limit the contagion, we need to pause the economy without causing
an economic meltdown.
When people lose their jobs in recessions they often never work again. When the financial system clogs up, some promising
productive companies go belly up.
The Treasury has adapted a German system called Kurzarbeit to create the Covid-19 job retention scheme. Businesses are to
get cheap loans while the state pays employees to stay at home on a reduced salary.
The Treasury is encouraging banks to lend to businesses despite uncertainty. This will mean changes, such as not firing
staff to protect the balance sheet and not withholding credit from struggling companies.
If these continental measures fail, Britain faces a deeper recession than many other nations.
AR Wake up, Boris, the EU is not the enemy.
2020 March 26
European Coronavirus Response
During the coronavirus crisis, Europe is struggling to find the right balance between national responsibility and solidarity.
The EU budget is set years in advance. Taxes, public debt, and social transfers are the responsibility of the national governments,
so corona aid packages are now being put together in Rome, Paris, and Berlin, but not in Brussels.
Brussels bureaucrats cannot say how long the quarantine can continue without irreparably damaging the economy. National governments
have the democratic mandate to do so. European politicians should only intervene when they are needed.
On border controls, if national governments impose isolation so harshly that European freight traffic collapses, Brussels must
intervene. Traffic jams at the borders hinder the transport of doctors, breathing masks, and food. The single market is a powerful weapon in
the fight against the virus.
If the EZ refuses to provide community aid, it invites financial markets to speculate on the collapse of the EZ. Brussels is
pushing for joint loan assistance from the bailout fund or joint corona bonds.
Many EU countries face shortages of masks, protective clothing, and respirators. Many are too small to prevail in global
procurement markets, but the EU has the purchasing power of 450 million consumers to organize joint purchase of medical goods.
The virus is forcing the EU to lean toward subsidiarity. Containing the pandemic is primarily a task for the member states.
Europe is not the answer to this crisis.
AR Unlike Brexit, the EU is not hindering good responses.
UK Coronavirus Response
Two groups of researchers are in dispute on coronavirus epidemic modeling. If Oxford is right, quarantine is over. If Imperial is right,
we are in it for a year.
The Imperial College London team say lifting restrictions risks mass death on a scale not seen since WW2. The University
of Oxford team say everything will be fine.
Imperial professor Neil Ferguson calculated that the UK policy of herd immunity would not only fail to keep the coronavirus
outbreak manageable, it would also fill intensive care beds eight times over and lead to 260,000 deaths.
Oxford professor Sunetra Gupta has a model that says more than half of the UK population has already been infected with
coronavirus. Her approach implies that the death rate is minuscule that we are already almost at the level of herd immunity.
Ferguson: "We have ruled out scenarios considered in that paper."
The Imperial team modeled the probable future spread of the virus from scratch on the basis of what we know. The Oxford
team took a standard outbreak model and set its parameters to match the data, which suggested that most of us had already been infected.
No model is perfect. Many virologists view modeling as a black art, where your predictions change wildly depending on your
understanding of the present.
UK policy appears to hinge on the Imperial model. Ferguson recommended acting fast and hard. The government liked that.
AR The Oxford model is tempting, but think carefully.
2020 March 25
The State Fights Back
The United States has signed off on a $2 trillion aid package. The global bailout, including central bank liquidity support, will have a sticker price
of more than $4.5 trillion. This is a state takeover, but it beats going bust.
The UK government has promised loans and grants to business worth £330 billion, plus basic pay for company employees left workless.
As in a wartime command economy, ministers are coordinating supermarkets to distribute food and manufacturers to make ventilators.
Ayn Rand glorified entrepreneurs and praised financial transactions. Her philosophy fed into the neoliberal view of globalising
corporations as the real powers in nation states. The view was damaged in 9/11 and 2008, but the tech giants kept it alive in America.
The coronavirus shows that ultimately the state, not business, is in charge. The state can create money, businesses cannot. Businesses
need to survive the crisis to stay in business.
Conservative peer and City grandee Lucy Neville-Rolfe: "When plague broke out in ancient Athens, it enabled Sparta, which was more
disciplined, to become dominant."
AR For Sparta, read China.
Coronavirus in the UK
The new coronavirus may already have infected half the UK population. An Oxford model implies that fewer than 0.1% of those infected get ill enough
to need hospital treatment.
The model indicates that Covid-19 reached the UK by mid-January at the latest. Like many emerging infections, it spread invisibly for
weeks before the first transmissions within the UK were officially recorded at the end of February.
An Imperial College London model has set government policy. The accuracy of the Oxford model has not yet been confirmed. Even if it is
correct, social distancing will relieve pressure on the NHS during the peak of the epidemic. The government abandoned its unofficial herd immunity
strategy after scientific advisers said this would swamp the NHS.
The model suggests the UK has already acquired substantial herd immunity via the spread of Covid-19 over more than two months.
If tests confirm this, the current restrictions could soon be lifted.
Oxford epidemiology professor Sunetra Gupta: "We need immediately to begin large-scale serological surveys — antibody testing
— to assess what stage of the epidemic we are in now."
AR Do it.
⦿ The New York Times
Americans: The worst is yet to come
2020 March 24
A Life on Our Planet
David Attenborough: "We've not just ruined the planet, we've destroyed it."
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the documentary should hit cinemas
and Netflix later this year.
Attenborough is an activist. He focused on plastics in 2017 and on global warming in 2019. The film is a powerful plea to humanity to
turn things around, for the sake of every living thing on the planet.
Attenborough: "I've got no idea if humanity is going to get through this or not. There have been extraordinary changes in the last
5 to 10 years in general public attitude, and that's because I think people actually recognise that the environment is really in trouble."
When Attenborough was a child in the 1930s, 66% of the world was wilderness and the CO2 levels in the
atmosphere were around 310 ppm. By the end of the century, wilderness was down to 47% and CO2 was at 363 ppm. Now,
wilderness covers just 23% of the planet, and atmospheric CO2 is at more than 410 ppm.
Attenborough: "Our blind assault on the planet has now come to alter the fundamentals of the living world."
AR As he says, it's high time to stabilise the human population, phase out fossil fuels, fish less in the oceans,
and radically reduce the land area we use for farming.
2020 March 23
Leading Global Crisis Response
Kurt M. Campbell, Rush Doshi
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed just how unprepared Washington is to lead a global response.
As Washington falters, Beijing is moving quickly and adeptly to position itself as the global leader in pandemic response. It is working to tout its
own system, provide material assistance to other countries, and even organize other governments.
The virus was first detected in November 2019 in Wuhan. In March 2020, China was claiming victory. Mass quarantines, a halt to travel,
and a complete shutdown of most daily life nationwide were credited with having stemmed the tide.
Beijing is working to turn these early signs of success into a larger narrative to broadcast to the rest of the world. Central
authorities have instituted tight informational control and discipline at state organs to snuff out contradictory narratives.
President Xi Jinping understands that providing global goods burnishes China's leadership credentials.
Much of what the world depends on to fight the coronavirus is made in China. It was already the major producer of surgical masks and
now it has boosted production of masks more than tenfold. China also produces roughly half of the N95 respirators critical for protecting health
workers. China also produces the vast majority of active pharmaceutical ingredients necessary to make antibiotics.
China has undertaken a robust diplomatic campaign to convene dozens of countries and hundreds of officials to share information about
the pandemic and lessons from its own experience battling the disease.
The United States lacks the supply and capacity to meet many of its own demands, let alone to provide aid in crisis zones elsewhere.
The Trump administration has so far shunned a leadership effort to respond to the coronavirus.
The crisis might even spur progress on other global challenges such as climate change.
AR My Trump verdict: He lost US global leadership.
Boris Johnson has two great heroes. One is Winston Churchill. The other is Pericles. Under Pericles, Athens built the Parthenon, fought a war with
Sparta, and built up a buccaneering empire.
But in 430 BCE, Athens was hit by a plague that wiped out a third of its population, including Pericles. The doctors suffered a high
mortality rate. Sparta was not hit and won the war.
The plague disrupted the bonds of citizenship and custom that had held Athenian society together. Democracy was placed under strain.
What was lost was never wholly recovered.
The Roman world was repeatedly hit by epidemics. In the mid-3rd century CE, an ebola-like plague hit the empire. Amid the carnage,
the Roman world collapsed into anarchy.
In the 6th century, when a new epidemic hit the Roman world, Rome was left a shell, and the new capital Constantinople ruled an
empire halved in size.
We are equipped to fight epidemics in ways beyond the dreams of any Athenian or Roman. Our civilization will not melt like a
sandcastle before Covid-19.
AR Is this any consolation?
2020 March 22
Coronavirus in the UK
The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the insecurity of work, the cruelty of UK welfare policy, and the hypocrisy of ignoring the needs of the
poorest and most vulnerable.
Policymakers have suddenly discovered that "unskilled workers" at the margins of the labour force are crucially important to the
functioning of society. The UK government's list of key workers is a list largely of jobs in which workers get paid derisory sums for doing
The problem of inadequate sick pay has existed for years without policymakers taking much notice. Unemployment benefits are worth
less in real terms now than they were in the early 1990s. Politicians and policymakers have long sanctioned poverty within the benefits system.
Successive UK governments from the 1980s on have stigmatised claimants and made the welfare system harsh and mean-minded. The claim
about "disincentives to work" has too often been used as a means to cut benefits to the bare bones, turning the benefit system into a punitive one.
The government has announced a delay in landlords being able to enforce evictions. For those who have lost wages or their jobs, that is
merely to defer rather than to eliminate the problem. As with low pay and benefits, the issue is a longstanding one.
Coronavirus has revealed that fragility has been built into the UK system through deliberate policy.
AR Hard facts but true.
My beach on Saturday, illustrating social distancing
China has positioned itself
as a leader and benefactor
in public health.
President Xi Jinping
offers comforting words:
"Sunshine comes after
2020 March 21
Das Gesundheitssystem der Bundesrepublik ist eines der modernsten, reichsten und potentesten der Welt. Für die Corona-Epidemie ist es weit besser
gerüstet als die Systeme vieler anderer Länder. Aber schon jetzt sind große Teile dieses Systems überfordert.
Je nachdem, wie schnell die Zahl der Infizierten in den nächsten Tagen und Wochen steigt, droht der Kollaps, wenn Menschen
sterben müssen, weil es an Personal, an Betten, an Geräten fehlt. Und nicht, weil ihre Krankheit unheilbar ist.
AR Ominös für uns alle.
Biology of Covid-19
The covid-19 virus infects living cells. It burrows into a cell and takes over the internal machinery to replicate. These new viruses are then ejected
from the cell to infect more cells.
The covid-19 virus has at its core a strand of RNA that carries its genes. Around this is a protein shell, which is surrounded by two
layers of lipids. The outer membrane is dotted with proteins, some of which stick out like spikes. These anchor a protein to a cell.
The covid-19 spike protein binds to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which is expressed in the lung and in the gastrointestinal
tract. To attach to ACE2, it first splits itself, and to do this it harnesses human cell proteins such as transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2).
Our immune response uses the lymphocyte antigen 6E (LY6E) protein to stop coronaviruses from entering cells. If we find out what LY6E
does, we might be able to mimic it with a drug.
To replicate, the virus has to build proteins and copy its RNA genome. The proteins are made first. When the virus RNA enters an infected
cell, the host machinery reads the genes and strings together two large polyproteins containing several viral proteins. Some of these are enzymes
called proteases, which first cut themselves out of the polyprotein, and then cut out other proteins, freeing them to carry out their functions.
We know the atomic structure of the main protease and substances that bind to it. We are developing an inhibitor for the main proteases
of coronaviruses that works on the covid-19 virus. The resulting drug works on single cells.
The virus uses RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP) to copy its genomes. Most RNA viruses don't check for errors when copying their genomes,
so we can stop them copying their genome by introducing modified RNA building blocks, but the covid-19 virus has a proofreading enzyme called
exonuclease, which removes the modified RNA components and allows copying to continue.
The virus spreads because it can reproduce inside our bodies for days without triggering our immune response. Fever and coughing are
due to our immune system fighting back, but the virus delays this with extra genes that code for proteins that interfere with our immune system.
Understanding these proteins could help us.
AR Useful background info.
2020 March 20
The World After Coronavirus
Yuval Noah Harari
Humankind is now facing a global crisis. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come.
The storm will pass and most of us will still be alive, but we will inhabit a different world.
In this time of crisis, we face choices between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment, between nationalist isolation and global
solidarity. To stop the epidemic, entire populations need to comply with certain guidelines.
In their battle against the coronavirus epidemic, several governments have already deployed new surveillance tools. They are using ever
more sophisticated technologies to track, monitor, and manipulate people. This pandemic marks a watershed transition from interpersonal to biometric
Imagine every citizen wearing a biometric bracelet that monitors body temperature and pulse 24/7. Government algorithms will know you are
sick even before you do, and they will also know where you have been, and who you have met. They could stop the epidemic within days.
Anger, joy, boredom, and love are biological phenomena just like fever and a cough. The technology could track them all. Corporations and
governments could get to know us far better than we know ourselves, and then manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they want.
Alternatively, we can choose to protect our health and stop the coronavirus epidemic not by accepting totalitarian surveillance but rather
by empowering citizens.
When people are told the scientific facts, and when people trust public authorities to tell them these facts, citizens can do the right
thing even without a Big Brother watching over their shoulders. A self-motivated and well-informed population is usually far more powerful and
effective than a policed, ignorant population.
Whenever people talk about surveillance, remember that surveillance technology can usually be used not only by governments to monitor
individuals but also by individuals to monitor governments. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare
experts over conspiracy theories and irresponsible politicians.
The pandemic and its economic crisis can be solved only by global cooperation. China can teach Americans many valuable lessons about
coronavirus and how to deal with it. But for this to happen, we need a spirit of global cooperation and trust.
AR See my review of Harari's books.
2020 March 19
Toby Ord says the chance of human life ending entirely during this century is one in six.
He works at the University of Oxford Future of Humanity Institute, where he considers apocalyptic scenarios from asteroid strikes
to climate change, broader environmental collapse, nuclear war, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
He thinks future intelligent machines might wipe out their human underlings.
Pandemics are his second-biggest fear. The coronavirus outbreak provides a foretaste of the massive disruption a more lethal strain
Oliver Letwin was once the UK government minister in charge of UK disaster preparedness. He sees the vulnerability of industrial
societies rising as interlocking tech networks underpin social systems.
Five mass extinctions have scarred our planetary history, the most recent wiping out the dinosaurs. Habitat and species destruction
are now causing a sixth Holocene extinction.
Extinction Rebellion calls for radical travel limits and sharply reduced consumption resembling the results of the current
One result of the pandemic may be that scenarios imagined by survivalists will be easier for the rest of us to imagine too.
Our world is littered with the ruins of civilizations that came to an end.
AR Ord and his colleagues are too gloomy.
The local fabric of space looks much the same at every point and in every direction. Three geometries fit this description: flat, spherical,
In flat geometry, the angles of a triangle add up to 2π and the area of a circle is πr2. The simplest example of a
flat 3D shape is ordinary Euclidean space.
Spherical and hyperbolic shapes are harder to visualize. Take a rectangular piece of paper and tape its top and bottom edges
to make a cylinder. Next, tape the right and left edges to get a torus. This crumples the paper along the inner circle of the torus and
stretches along the outer circle.
For you as a 2D creature living on a flat torus, angles in a triangle sum to 2π, and so on. But there are straight paths
on the torus that loop around and return to where they started, so if you look straight ahead in any of these directions, you see copies
of your own back.
Similarly, we can build a flat 3D torus by gluing the opposite faces of a box. Living in it is like living in an infinite
3D array of identical cubic rooms. You see infinitely many copies of yourself.
The 3D torus is just one of 10 different flat finite worlds. Each of these worlds has a different hall-of-mirrors array,
but they all have the same local geometry as Euclidean space.
The farthest we can see is the CMB radiation left over from shortly ABB. A search for matching circles in the CMB, suggesting
they are the same circle seen from different directions, failed to find any.
A 3-sphere is the set of all points a fixed distance from a center in 4-space. For life in a 3-sphere, light travels along
the great circles. Every point on the 3-sphere has an opposite point, and we see anything there as our sky.
The 3-sphere is the model for spherical geometry. We can build spherical spaces by gluing up a chunk of a 3-sphere. Each of
these glued shapes has a hall-of-mirrors effect, but in them there are only finitely many rooms to travel through.
A spherical universe can be detected through purely local measurements. Because straight lines in spherical geometry are
great circles, triangles are fatter, and their angles add up to more than 2π.
Hyperbolic geometry opens outward to infinity. But because it does so much more quickly than flat geometry, we cannot fit even
a 2D hyperbolic plane inside Euclidean space without distortion. One distorted view of the hyperbolic plane is the Poincaré disk.
From outside the disk, the triangles near the boundary circle look much smaller than the ones near the center, but from inside
all the triangles are the same size, and the boundary circle is infinitely far out. Locally, the circumference of a circle grows exponentially
compared to the radius and the angles of a triangle sum to less than 2π.
Measuring cosmic triangles can test whether the universe is curved. For each hot or cold spot in the CMB, its diameter and its
distance form a triangle. We can measure the angle the spot subtends and check whether it fits flat, spherical, or hyperbolic geometry.
Most measurements seem to favor a flat universe.
AR Flat is vanishingly improbable, but too big for the curvature to show is likely.
An axion field can explain why the strong nuclear force respects CP symmetry. The axion boson is a candidate for dark matter and may show why
matter predominates over antimatter.
In the first few nanoseconds ABB, an angle θ in the field equations may have cycled between 0 and 2π as the field settled
down to 0. Let a Mexican hat with a tall brim represent the axion field, where θ is the angular position around the hat, and the height
of its crown or sides represents energy.
Imagine the genesis of the axion field as like a marble landing on the brim of the hat. The marble rolled down the brim toward the
center, and the hat was tilted to make the marble settle at θ = 0.
If the axion field is not exactly symmetrical, other quantum fields may put kinks in the brim of the hat. If the kinks forced the
marble to roll around the hat, the rotation slowed down as the field interacted with other fields. The rotational asymmetry led to matter
instead of antimatter.
The axion would have 10 times the mass of the Higgs. This is too much for the LHC, but not for the planned High-Luminosity LHC,
slated for first light in 2027.
AR I hope I live to see it.
Deutschland steht nach den Worten von Kanzlerin Angela Merkel in der Coronakrise vor der größten Herausforderung seit dem
Zweiten Weltkrieg. Es habe seither nichts gegeben, "bei dem es so sehr auf unser gemeinsames solidarisches Handeln ankommt.
Es ist ernst. Nehmen Sie es auch ernst."
2020 March 18
UK Healthcare: Into the Abyss
I'm a respiratory specialist in an intensive-care unit at a hospital in London. A patient who needed a ventilator turned out to have the coronavirus.
I hadn't worn a mask. Soon I developed a cough.
I was told to self-isolate for 14 days. After just one patient with Covid-19, a quarter of our junior staff are off. A single case of
the coronavirus has wreaked havoc in our hospital.
Britain has fewer intensive-care beds than most other European countries. Even when a bed is available, we do not have the nurses to
staff it. A decade of cuts and underfunding has left us dangerously exposed.
British hospitals have plans to cancel nonemergency care and move staff members to the front line. As people with the coronavirus flood
their corridors, they will be pushed to the breaking point.
The government plans to flatten the peak of the epidemic. The UK is not yet in full shutdown. I can understand not wanting to enforce
isolation sooner than necessary, but I worry about how we know where we are on the epidemic curve.
The NHS will only survive this crisis by protecting and respecting its staff. We are being asked to do more with little compensation
while colleagues are hung out to dry because the system failed them.
For years, health care workers have been raising the alarm that the NHS is in crisis. As this crisis intensifies, we must be given
the means to protect ourselves and our patients.
Right now, it feels like we're heading into the abyss.
AR Brits needs to rethink their most basic priorities.
2020 March 17
After Brexit, Coronavirus
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has risen to a genuine national emergency with an approach that is serious, measured, rational, and open. He is holding
daily press conferences flanked by the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser. He is trying to level with the public.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "Every time I hear somebody talking about [the crisis], I listen and I try to find out if there's
something that we haven't thought of and something that we need to consider because all that matters is getting this response right."
UK chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance: "We should be prepared to change our minds as the evidence changes. We cannot go in
with a fixed plan that is immutable."
The contrast with the prime minister's approach to Brexit is stark. The EU talks scheduled to take place in London this week have been
cancelled as governments struggle to cope with the crisis. Yet Johnson still says the transition period must end on December 31, as if Brexit is
The peak of the crisis in the UK is expected just as the June deadline for requesting a Brexit delay approaches, so it will be impossible
for either side to say how the trade talks are going. The logical move is to announce an extension to the transition period.
Johnson's evasiveness about the consequences of Brexit is the opposite of his openness over coronavirus. The government refuses to
publish its own economic impact assessment of trade deal it hopes to strike with the EU, presumably because the Treasury agrees with most economists
that there will be a hit to the economy. The last thing the UK will need at the end of the year, after the Coronavirus crash, is another shock.
On Brexit, Johnson ignored the experts. He insisted the UK must quit the EU pandemic early warning system and leave the European
Medicines Agency. This may mean the UK has to wait longer and pay more to acquire a coronavirus vaccine.
The UK cannot isolate itself from the world. Cooperation is crucial, trust matters, and transparency can help build it. The political
divisions over the EU that tore the UK apart last year seem petty in a life and death emergency.
AR Boris, detest, curse, and revile your Europhobia.
Depressing Economic Forecast
The pandemic may be a bigger economic threat than the financial crisis of 2008/09. Many households and businesses are likely to run out of money soon.
Consumer demand will weaken, businesses will go bankrupt, and there is a risk of a collapse in economic activity.
As borrowers and spenders of last resort, governments can and must do more. Government debt is so cheap that they need feel no fear of
doing so: Germany, Japan, France, and the UK can now borrow for 30 years at a nominal rate of less than 1%, Canada at 1.3%, and the USA at 1.4%.
Providing relief is far better than loans and loan guarantees. Businesses will take up loans only to ensure their survival through the
crisis, not necessarily to pay their workers. Payments can be made conditional on keeping workers.
Globally, the pandemic risks creating a depression.
AR Governments need to manage economies.
2020 March 16
Don't Say Don't Panic
Three basic principles of coronavirus crisis communication:
✗ Don't give premature reassurance,
✗ Don't tell people not to panic,
✓ Get doctors and scientists on TV asap.
When people panic, usually someone is to blame. They panic when they fear they are in a dangerous situation but see no way out or
when they perceive they are being denied treatment due to disorganisation.
History shows that global epidemics can cause serious civil disturbance. Preparing for spending two weeks in isolation by stocking
up on necessities is not panicking. It is a rational and appropriate response.
Epidemics can bring us closer together. First responders run toward danger. Altruism motivates self-isolation. Appeals to protect
others are more effective in persuading people to cooperate than coercion.
AR So 42 is not the answer.
The Painted Bird
The Painted Bird
juxtaposes unrelenting atrocity and childhood innocence. Adapted from a novel by Jerzy Kosinski, the movie follows an abandoned boy through
an almost medieval eastern European landscape of death, cruelty, superstition, deprivation, and madness. Civilization is barely clinging on
as the Nazis tighten their grip. Any fleeting trace of humanity — a small act of kindness, a snatch of song — is a welcome relief.
The film is often ravishing to behold, with pristine cinematography, epic vistas, and unforgettable imagery.
AR Must see.
Monday morning: All clear on my beach
2020 March 15
Trump Versus Disease X
The World Health Organization recently released a list of diseases likely to spark a public health emergency. On the list was disease X: a pathogen
currently in animals but with the potential to make the leap into humans and spread around the globe.
America is retreating from supporting the global and public health efforts that can prevent epidemics of diseases like disease X.
Current proposals from the Trump White House would slash funding for foreign aid and US public health agencies.
Countries cannot isolate themselves from the flow of disease across borders. Fighting and preventing pandemics requires cross-border
collaboration and cooperation. Countries need to share information transparently about outbreaks within their borders, and they need to agree on
plans to prevent and fight those outbreaks.
Historically, the US government has had the single largest footprint of any country in global health when it comes to money
contributed. This work is carried out directly by USAID, the CDC, the Department of Defense, and the WHO.
The Trump administration proposed in its 2019 budget to cut funding for the CDC by 20%. It also proposed slashing funding for the
State Department and USAID by a quarter. That has prompted USAID and the CDC to plan a retreat from 39 of the 49 foreign countries they work in.
This work abroad has involved critical pandemic prevention efforts.
The bigger issue is the ability of governments and organizations to put money into preparedness. Many global health thinkers have
called for a permanent global health fund in the vein of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
AR Trump in his "state of emergency" press conference last week called citing these facts "nasty" and announced
today as a National Day of Prayer.
2020 March 14
We See EU
UK political reporting culture aims to keep its distance, holding power to account. But for much of the period of UK membership in the EU,
British coverage of the EU seemed so confrontational as to lose all sense of perspective.
Deliberations in Brussels were written up as national victories or defeats. This art form was pioneered in the early 1990s by
a young reporter called Boris Johnson. The idea of compromise and collaboration was never mentioned in the adversarial narrative.
The expectation is that this detachment will only grow, with less and less about the EU and European affairs in the pages of
AR Ignorance and insults — not news.
2020 March 13
Children and Coronavirus
Children are less likely to get severely ill and die from the new coronavirus. Yet children are just as likely as adults to get infected.
A common complication of covid-19, SARS, and MERS in adults is acute respiratory distress syndrome, where the immune response becomes
overzealous and blocks oxygen uptake in the lungs.
Because children's immune systems are still developing, one suggestion is that they are shielded from this type of dangerous immune
response — called a cytokine storm — when they get covid-19 or similar diseases.
Children's immune systems might react differently to coronaviruses compared with flu because of differences in the type of cytokine
response produced against each virus.
Children may also be benefiting from their lack of past exposure to coronaviruses generally. Because they have lived longer, adults
are more likely than children to have encountered other coronaviruses in their lives and to already have antibodies against these milder viruses.
These existing antibodies could leave them worse off, because they aren't exactly matched to the new coronavirus.
Just because children aren't getting severely ill doesn't mean they aren't contributing to the spread of the new coronavirus.
It seems infected adults without symptoms can spread the virus and the same may be true of children.
AR So schools will spread the virus independently of any other measures.
2020 March 12
Trump Coronavirus Address
President Trump: "My fellow Americans: Tonight, I want to speak with you about our nation's unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak .."
As he was speaking, the Dow futures market nosedived. A few hours earlier, the US stock market entered bear territory for the first time
since the global financial crisis.
Trump suspended all travel from Europe for 30 days. He excluded the UK and Ireland from the ban for no good reason. The WHO says
international travel bans stifle the flow of medicines and aid.
Trump has been badly shaken by the stock market fall that has wiped out most of the gains of his administration. Yet his actions will
deepen market pessimism.
AR This crisis may end his presidency — I hope.
2020 March 11
The New York Times
World Health Organization officials say the spread of the coronavirus is now a global pandemic.
Matt Flegenheimer, Katie Glueck
The state of the union is impossible to pin down. The state of the Democratic primary is not. With a string of commanding victories, Joe Biden
appears poised to complete a striking turnaround.
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak ended a decade of Conservative austerity in his first UK budget with a big increase in public spending and a
£12 billion emergency fiscal stimulus to counter the shock of the coronavirus outbreak. He pledged to pour money into the NHS.
AR Sunak delivered it well — money for potholes too.
2020 March 10
The US Economy
The New York Times
President Trump seems likely to push the US economy over the edge. The panic may be on Wall Street, but the pain is also going to be felt on
Main Street. Our society is constructed to reward the rich in good times and punish the poor in bad times.
A coronavirus recession would be doubly painful. Lower-income families are less likely to have health insurance, or jobs that
provide paid leave, or jobs that can be done from a home office. Wealthier Americans can dream of riding out the coronavirus.
Huge spending on public health is sensible under the circumstances. Limiting the spread of the virus is the best way to minimize
economic damage. We're in this mess because our policymakers failed to plan for the future.
AR China responded better.
Wellness and Beauty
Wellness is a combination of physical and mental well-being. Feeling at my best, without striving for perfection. To me it is all about balance and
moderation. Happiness and health are wealth.
With age comes wisdom, which is beautiful and something we should be proud of. I feel blessed to have experienced and lived all that
I have. I believe in beauty from the inside out.
I really try to not give energy to things that are unworthy of my energy. No matter what I am doing, someone has something to say,
good or bad.
AR An admirable philosophy.
Quantum entanglement can be used to verify answers to computational problems. In new work, five researchers showed that by interrogating provers
that share entangled particles, you can verify a much larger class of problems than you can without entanglement.
Let a prover be a powerful computer that proposes a solution to a problem. Let a verifier be a less powerful computer that asks the
prover questions to determine whether the answer is correct. When two provers propose solutions to the same problem, by interrogating the provers
separately about their answers, you can verify solutions to a larger class of problems than with only one prover.
The tensor product model of entanglement sees entangled particles as too far away from each other to allow causal interaction. This model
uses matrices with a finite number of rows and columns. The commuting operator model says particles are entangled when their properties are correlated
but the order in which you measure the properties is irrelevant. This model uses a matrix with an infinite number of rows and columns.
Alain Connes conjectured that one can approximate many infinite-dimensional matrices with finite-dimensional ones. This
is implied by the Connes embedding conjecture. Boris Tsirelson conjectured that the tensor product and commuting operator models of entanglement were
roughly equivalent. The Connes embedding conjecture and Tsirelson's conjecture imply each other.
John Bell came up with a test for determining the reality of entanglement:
1 Alice and Bob share a 3×3 grid. Alice is given a row and enters a 0 or a 1 in each cell so that they sum to an
odd number. Bob gets a column and fills it out so that it sums to an even number. They win if they put the same number in the shared cell. The best
they can do is win 89% of the time.
2 Alice and Bob split a pair of entangled particles. They measure their respective particles and use the results to say
whether to write 1 or 0 in each cell. They can now win 100% of the time.
If two players keep winning, they are using entanglement. Bell tests are now called nonlocal games.
There is no general algorithm for calculating the exact maximum winning probability for all nonlocal games. But you can home in on an answer using the two
models of entanglement. An algorithm that uses the tensor product model sets a floor on the max-win probability for nonlocal games. An algorithm that
uses the commuting operator model sets a ceiling.
These algorithms produce more precise answers the longer they run. If Tsirelson's conjecture is true, the floor and the ceiling should
zoom in on a single value.
A graph is a collection of vertices connected by edges. Imagine you want to know whether you can color the vertices using three colors,
so that no vertices connected by an edge have the same color.
For very big graphs, you can ask each prover to tell you the color of one of two connected vertices. If they each report a different
color, and they keep doing so every time you ask, you gain confidence that three colors suffice. But as graphs get really big, even the question
is too much for the verifier.
Entanglement enables the provers to come up with the questions themselves. The verifier wants the provers to report the colors of
connected vertices. If two provers asked questions independently, they would not select enough correlated vertices for validation, but with
entanglement they can. The provers each report a color, and the verifier checks that they never report the same color.
This procedure is a nonlocal game. You can play nonlocal games with entangled provers to verify answers to at least as many problems
as you can by interrogating two classical computers.
The new proof established that interrogating entangled provers makes it possible to verify answers to more problems, including the
halting problem. But the halting problem is insoluble, so calculating the approximate max-win probability for nonlocal games is undecidable, and
the two models of entanglement are not equivalent. The Tsirelson and Connes conjectures are both false.
AR A bit much for a wise old man.
On the left horizon is Brittany car ferry Barfleur
on its way from Poole to Cherbourg this morning
The Better Half:
On the genetic superiority
by Sharon Moalem
NASA, JPL, U. Arizona
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
image of hole on slopes of
2020 March 9
Financial Times, 0930 UTC
Oil prices crashed by a fifth after Saudi Arabia launched an aggressive price war. Stock markets plunged and investors rushed into government bonds.
London's FTSE 100 was down 7% and on track for its worst day since the 2008-09 financial crisis. Germany's DAX and France's CAC 40 fell more than 6%.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index slid into bear market territory. The Saudi move threatens to swamp the oil market with supplies just as the coronavirus
outbreak hits demand.
75 Years Ago: Tokyo
On the night of March 9/10, 1945, hundreds of USAAF B-29 Superfortress bombers dropped 1,500 tons of firebombs onto Tokyo.
The city was comprised of mostly wooden houses, and the bombing created tornadoes of fire so intense that they sucked mattresses from
homes and sent them hurtling down the street along with furniture and people.
"The flames consumed them, turning them into balls of fire," says Nihei, now 83. She had been asleep at home with her parents and her
siblings when the bombs began raining down. As she raced down her street, the superheated winds set her fireproof wrap ablaze. She briefly let go
of her father's hand to toss it off. He was swept away into the crush of people trying to escape.
As the flames closed in, Nihei found herself at a Tokyo crossroad, screaming for her father. A stranger wrapped himself around her to
protect her from the flames. As more people piled into the intersection, she was pushed down. When she was finally pulled out from the pile of
people, she saw their bodies charred black. The stranger who had protected her was her father.
Nihei had narrowly survived the deadliest bombing raid in human history. It left 100,000 Japanese people killed and another million
injured. The inferno reduced an area of 40 square km to ash, leaving up to a million people homeless.
The human toll that night exceeded that of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
AR That was in Showa 20. I was in Tokyo in Showa 57.
2020 International Women's Day
On the Genetic Superiority of Women
Sharon Moalem says women are genetically tougher than men.
Women on average live longer than men. More men are born than women (105 to every 100) but by the age of 40 the numbers are equal and
by 100, 80% of the survivors are female. Women suffer fewer congenital birth abnormalities than men. Male children are twice as likely to suffer
Men are certainly more muscular and better than women at most sports requiring power. But men are not so good when it comes to extreme
endurance contests such as ultramarathons.
Moalem: "Women have a lower resting metabolic rate, so they don't exhaust themselves as easily. The other piece of this puzzle that I
looked at was famine survival, for which women have an immense advantage. I think that's where the ultra-endurance performance comes from."
Humans normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes. But the sex chromosomes differ in men and women. Women have two X chromosomes. Men have
an X and a Y. The Y chromosome is relatively poor in genetic information compared with the X chromosome.
Moalem: "Many of the genes that are used to make the brain are on the X chromosome. And so many of the genes that are involved in the
immune function are on the X."
Women live longer than men, but the second X chromosome makes them more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases. As with cancer, men are
more likely to die from such diseases, but, unlike cancer, women are more likely to be afflicted in the first place.
2020 March 7
Coronavirus and US Health Care
The New York Times
The Trump administration public charge rule enables federal officials to deny green cards to immigrants who use social safety net programs.
Noncitizens who lack access to health insurance, nutritious food, or decent housing fall are vulnerable. The public charge rule could
deter millions of noncitizens from seeking medical care, lest they imperil their immigration status. This would make those groups less healthy
and thus more susceptible to an infectious disease outbreak.
When it first proposed the new rule, officials noted that it could lead to worse health outcomes for immigrants, especially infants,
children, and pregnant or nursing women. Vaccination rates might fall, and communicable diseases might become more prevalent. The rule was intended
to make immigrants self-sufficient.
Proponents of closed borders and small social safety nets highlight the tension between citizen and noncitizen. But infectious diseases
like Covid-19 expose such false dichotomies. Already, citizens who are underinsured or uninsured are being slammed with medical bills they can't
afford when they seek testing and treatment for the virus. If quarantines become routine, tens of millions of workers without health insurance or
paid sick leave will be unable to stock up and stay home.
Among noncitizens, the effects of the public charge rule and other such policies are that new mothers are turning away free baby formula,
hungry families are turning away food assistance, and the chronically and even fatally ill are avoiding hospitals and rejecting medical care.
All this fear might feed on itself in the months ahead. If citizens struggling to cover their own health care resent any group perceived
to be getting help, they might endorse even more draconian policies. From there, the epidemic would only get worse.
The best way to break this cycle is to stitch together a safety net for everyone. This is a moral position and a practical one.
AR Similar arguments apply to other public spending, such as on housing and education.
A social fabric is only as strong as its weakest stitch.
2020 March 6
Imagine if five years ago someone had pitched you this scenario: "It's March 2020. A global contagion is under way, and we open as prime minister
Boris Johnson is outlining his strategy to stave it off: singing Happy Birthday twice while washing your hands."
AR Imagine there's no heaven.
2020 March 5
US−UK Trade Deal
This week HM Government published its objectives in a US-UK trade deal. Leave campaigners dangled such a deal as the big prize from Brexit.
In the best-case scenario set out in the paper, a free-trade agreement would add 0.16% to UK GDP and 0.05% to US GDP over 15 years.
US billionaire Wilbur Ross is the US secretary of commerce and would oversee such a deal. He is known as the king of bankruptcy
and once saved Donald Trump from bankruptcy. The Trump trade doctrine stipulates that any new trade deal must reduce the US trade deficit,
strengthen US manufacturing, and boost US growth.
AR Such a deal should compensate for loss of EU trade?
2020 March 4
Super Tuesday: Joe Biden
Matt Flegenheimer, Alex Burns
Democrats are very likely to nominate one of two septuagenarian white men with conspicuous political baggage: Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.
Michael Bloomberg dropped out.
AR Biden will have to do more to beat Trump.
Bad History: Adolf Hitler
Hitler was violently opposed to international capitalism. He was an enemy of Britain and the United States of America before becoming an enemy
of the Jews. The British Empire and the United States took in millions of people of German origin and made them citizens.
He envisioned Germany dominating continental Europe and asserting itself as an equal against the AA powers, who were the real
winners of the First World War. He wanted Germans to rule Europe as a master race. He despised the idea of a federal Europe as an alliance
of small and peripheral states.
He waged two wars of annihilation, one against the Soviet Union, the other against the AA powers and what he called World Jewry.
He was fighting the AA capitalist world order and felt surrounded by enemies. He admired the racial quality of the Anglo-Saxons
on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Holocaust was a preventive strike against America arising from hostility to global high finance.
AR I think this AA spin is exaggerated.
2020 March 3
Cosmic Dark Ages
In the first moments ABB, there were no atoms. Light bounced off free electrons at every turn. Then the first H atoms formed, and most photons
were liberated to fly off into the universe. The CMB dates from this time, around 400 ky ABB.
A few hundred My later, hydrogen gas fills the universe and clumps together under gravity to make the first stars. But much of
the light emitted by the stars is at just the right energy to be reabsorbed by the gas, so the stars are still lost in a fog.
During these cosmic dark ages, some photons had enough energy to ionize H atoms, to let later photons fly past them. In time,
the photons ionized most of the gas surrounding a galaxy, clearing the fog and allowing starlight to shine out to us.
This took place during the epoch of reionization. We think it ended around 1 Gy ABB. We now have direct evidence of starlight
from a cluster of galaxies clearing the fog at around 680 My ABB.
AR Good — our model is corroborated.
2020 March 2
UK−EU trade talks
UK PM Boris Johnson rules out an extension of trade deal negotiations beyond the end of 2020. He is backtracking on the political declaration
and on the customs border in the Irish Sea. His plans conflict with EU rules on state aid.
The UK-EU trade negotiations that start today are a zero-sum game. The UK seeks maximum regulatory independence. The EU wants
to prevent it on grounds of competition. There is no deal that lets both sides declare victory.
The UK can secure its negotiating goal of regulatory independence unilaterally by walking out. The EU cannot do the same.
Europe should prepare for two economic shocks this year: a spread in the coronavirus and a WTO Brexit.
AR This is ominous.
2020 March 1
A Big Bang
Astronomers have found the remains of the biggest bang ever seen (ABB). It has left a void about 8 Zm wide at the center of a huge galaxy
almost 4 Ym away. The void was blown when matter fell into a supermassive black hole, which spun up and squirted out big jets that blew
away nearby gas. We detected radio waves emitted by electrons accelerated in the jets.
The energy needed to blow the void was about 1054 J.
AR Excuse my jargon, but I like it.
Qubits and Wormholes
Take a black hole and quantum entangle a second black hole with it. Any qubits fed into the first black hole fall beyond the event horizon and are
rapidly scrambled. But if the two black holes are linked in the right way, the qubits will pop out of the second one, refocused into readable form,
as if through a wormhole.
There may be a way to perform this experiment. If it works, it may offer clues about quantum gravity and suggest that spacetime is woven
by quantum entanglement.
Quantum mechanics implies that information is conserved. AdS/CFT correspondence says a spacetime with anti-de Sitter curvature corresponds
to a conformal field theory in one fewer dimension. This shows how Hawking radiation can encode qubits from inside a black hole.
Until a black hole is halfway evaporated, the qubits inside it are hidden. From then on, any further qubit thrown in bounces back.
The black hole is so entangled with its earlier Hawking radiation that any more qubits appear at once in new radiation. The black hole acts like an
The connection between black hole thermodynamics and quantum information theory is quantum scrambling, a strong form of thermalization
with delocalization of qubits. Black holes scramble qubits at the fastest rate possible.
A faster way to pull out qubits is to entangle the black hole fully with another black hole. A qubit falling into the first black hole
appears in the other. The entanglement between the black holes is like a wormhole between them. Qubits entering one black hole go down the wormhole
to the other.
Black holes act like fast quantum-scrambling circuits. In principle, we could make systems equivalent to wormhole-connected black holes
by entangling quantum circuits in the right way and teleporting qubits between them.
Juan Maldacena: "If these experiments can be done, it might become possible to create more and more complex entangled systems that
could test more aspects of the emergence of spacetime from quantum systems."
AR Spacetime from entanglement could be testable in my lifetime [smiley]
Liz and Mollie
British Isles after 100 m
rise in sea level
New Zealand Herald
2020 February 29
A global public health emergency with a recession can change the course of history.
In America, President Trump is vulnerable. The Obama administration created an NSC unit to focus on future epidemics, but Trump disbanded
the unit and made drastic cuts to epidemic prevention activities. A pandemic would bolster Democratic arguments for nationalized US healthcare.
The Chinese government portrays the virus as a natural disaster. Beijing wants praise from the international community for its efforts to
contain the virus. Chinese officials criticize the US decision to deny entry to foreign nationals from China. The US secretary of state criticizes
China for withholding information.
The EU is concerned about the threat to the Schengen travel zone. The refugee crisis has already put Schengen under strain. EU law lets
countries close their borders in the case of a public health emergency. They should follow Brussels guidelines, but some might go their own ways.
The biggest confirmed outbreaks of the virus have been in rich countries. The virus will be harder to contain in poor nations with weak
health systems. In Europe and the Mideast, refugees often live in crowded and insanitary camps. The Turkish decision to let refugees go to Europe
alarms the EU.
The UK government worst-case estimate is half a million deaths in the UK.
AR All bets are suddenly off in predicting the course of 2020.
2020 February 28
Global Markets: Dire Scenario
Equities have shed a tenth of their value this week in a selloff that continued on Friday, with investors rushing into havens on mounting concerns
the coronavirus outbreak will stunt the world economy and deal a heavy blow to corporate profits. Bank of America has predicted global growth
will slow in 2020 to below 3%, the weakest pace of the post-crisis era. Traders have piled in to asset classes that are seen as shelters during
AR Dump Trump, 'bandon Brexit, see sense.
2020 February 27
The New York Times
Single-winner elections do a poor job of winnowing a large field of candidates down to one with majority agreement. They encourage nastiness,
because it's all or nothing for each candidate.
Ranked-choice voting works on a simple premise: Instead of being forced to choose a single candidate, voters rank some or all
of the candidates in order of preference. They rank their favorite candidate first, their next-favorite candidate second, and so on. If one
candidate wins a majority of the vote outright, he or she is the winner. If not, the ballots are tallied in a series of rounds. In each round,
the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. Each ballot ranking that candidate first is then transferred to the candidate
whom it ranked second. The process repeats, eliminating the lowest-scoring candidate and redistributing his or her ballots, until one
candidate has more than half of the vote.
No democracy can long maintain its legitimacy with open-ended minority rule. Neither can political parties. Reform the
AR Do it in the UK too.
Jalaluddin Muhammad Rumi was an Islamic scholar, theologian, poet, and mystic. Born in what is now Afghanistan in 1207, Rumi grew up in
an era of deep political turmoil. He spent much of his life traveling in the Mideast before settling in Konya, now in Turkey.
In love with insanity, I'm fed up with wisdom and rationality.
Rumi considers insanity a mark of divine favor. The madness he promotes is rooted in ecstatic love; the one he condemns,
in petty fear. The former creates a mystic, the latter a lunatic:
Become the sky and the clouds that create the rain, not the gutter that carries it to the drain.
For Rumi, ego is not only the worst of our human afflictions but also the root of them all:
Quit keeping score if you want to be free. Love has ejected the referee.
When it comes to the prison of our own ego, love is our only way out:
Every storm the Beloved unfurls permits the sea to scatter pearls.
AR Thank you, Melody.
2020 February 26
Markets and Coronavirus
Investors have yet to confront the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. The worst is yet to come:
▴ The epidemic is becoming a global pandemic. We do not know yet how many other countries worldwide
will experience a severe outbreak.
▴ The impact will not peak before the end of Q1. Global supply chains are being seriously disrupted
at a time when China accounts for about 20% of global GDP. When the disease spreads to other markets, this damage will increase. Last year,
corporate capex dropped in view of the risks of a US−China trade war and a hard Brexit. Now, capex will be pushed back further to wait and
see how bad the outbreak will be. Consumers will stay at home.
▴ Markets might not rebound in Q2 and beyond. Assuming a V-shaped recovery is highly optimistic.
Growth is more likely to return to an annualised level of 6% from Q2 onward, with China at 2.5%.
▴ Policymakers have not taken strong early action. Central banks run out of bullets. The US Fed
will probably react in Q2 by cutting rates. But monetary policy cannot resolve the negative supply shock.
The coronavirus outbreak is likely to be only one of many negative shocks that will hit the global economy this year. The risk
of a global recession is rising.
AR What a time to set off into a Brexit sunset.
2020 February 25
Coronavirus has the formal WHO name COVID-19 and also the name SARS-CoV-2.
It is the third pathogenic novel coronavirus to emerge over the past two decades. The first caused SARS, a serious and atypical pneumonia.
The second, MERS-CoV, emerged a decade later and caused MERS. Since its identification, nearly 2,500 cases of MERS-CoV infection and nearly 900 deaths
have been documented. The SARS-CoV epidemic proved larger but less deadly, with approximately 8,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths.
MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV appear to originate in animals, and the same is likely true of SARS-CoV-2. This makes them zoonoses, diseases that
can jump between humans and other animals. The closest genetic relatives of SARS-CoV-2 sequences appear to be bat coronaviruses, with the role of
intermediate species possibly played by the pangolin. Four coronaviruses that cause colds in humans also seem to have zoonotic origins.
Coronaviruses use a surface glycoprotein to bind to host cells. Most coronaviruses that infect humans appear to latch onto one of three
specific host receptors on mammalian cells. These proteins are all present on epithelial cells of the human airway, presenting easy targets to any
Another virus that commonly emerges from animal reservoirs is influenza. Almost all known influenza viruses originate in waterfowl.
Many viruses move from birds into other species, including humans. An avian H1N1 virus was responsible for the global pandemic of 1918 that caused
an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide.
Coronaviruses and influenza both have pandemic potential.
2020 February 24
The global spread of covid-19 seems to have exploded in recent days, with outbreaks revealed in Iran and Italy and a massive increase in cases in
South Korea. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus says the window of opportunity for containing the virus is narrowing.
Some countries, such as Singapore, have detected most of the infected people that epidemiologists say they should be getting from China,
but many have not. On average, countries are detecting only a third of expected cases.
Until now, efforts to fight the virus have focused on containment, in which all detected cases and their contacts are quarantined.
But when there is enough infection about, people catch it without it being obvious who they got it from.
As containment fails, the world enters the mitigation phase of epidemic response, with quarantine replaced by actions such as closing
schools, canceling mass gatherings, and similar social distancing measures. This is aimed at slowing the epidemic, so as not to overwhelm medical
2020 February 23
The vote for Brexit was driven less by economics than by other views. A far higher proportion of people with conservative views voted for Brexit
than of people with liberal views. Their views explain their vote much better than their economic circumstances. Older and less educated people
mostly voted for Leave.
It is difficult to separate cultural and economic aspects. Many regions outside the capital that voted for Brexit are on the margins of
the British economy, have been affected by industrial decline, and feel left behind. Regions that voted Leave were the most affected by austerity
People who felt that they had fallen behind voted against what they thought was the status quo.
Britain has become more socially liberal. People who have not gone along with this change, including older people and people who have
not gone to university, were more likely to support Brexit.
The EU free movement of people fueled opposition to social liberalism. But Britain has record high employment and low unemployment,
and studies show that migrants have no overall negative impact on employees and wages and salaries.
Rejection of migration is not higher where the proportion of immigrants is high. But immigration is perceived generally as a loss of
control. The UK has changed faster than many wanted.
The Remain campaign emphasized the economic benefits of staying in the EU. It was a fundamental misjudgment that they could win the
referendum solely with economic arguments.
The Remain campaign neglected to raise awareness of the positive side of the EU. Free movement brings benefits for British citizens,
but voters who see immigration positively were not mobilized. Remainers preferred not to talk about immigration at all.
EU membership has not brought about a loss of identity and sovereignty for the UK. The government should have said that what bothers
people is caused not by the EU but by government decisions such as austerity.
The economic consensus is that Brexit is bad for the economy. So far, our predictions look pretty accurate. We need to counter the
myth that economists have misjudged Brexit.
AR No surprises here.
2020 February 22
Latest Neutron Star Collision
Last summer, the gravitational wave observatory known as LIGO detected two neutron stars merging. The event challenges everything we thought we knew
about neutron star pairs.
The pair has a total mass of around 3.4 M⦿. All previously known examples of binary neutron stars weighed somewhere around
2.6 M⦿. Such heavy pairings could be almost as common as the lighter binary star systems we have been studying for decades.
Perhaps massive mergers were hard to detect before LIGO because they happen so rapidly. With a photon telescope, you have to be looking
in the right place at just the right time. But LIGO is omnidirectional and monitors the entire sky.
We cannot explain why there should be so many big neutron stars. To do so, we would need to find as many heavy progenitor stars as we
do lighter stars. But we think fewer than 1 in 10 of all stars are big enough to make such massive neutron stars.
The authors used computer simulations to model the life cycle of compact stellar objects over billions of years. The code accounts for
the effects of relativity, magnetism, gravitational radiation and much more. It also lets researchers plug in assumptions about details that are
not fully understood. Yet the team could not produce anywhere near the number of heavy neutron star pairs that LIGO suggests.
Supernova simulations are complex and difficult. The models that drive them are conjectural. We need to reconsider what we thought
we knew about neutron stars.
2020 February 21
Substance Abuse Resources for Veterans
We've all heard the horror stories from Iraq, the Afghanistan war, the Kosovo war, and other wars which have taken place around the world.
Young, vibrant men and women volunteer to go overseas and fight for their country. They sacrifice their peace of mind, time, and comfort.
But when they come back, some of these individuals are not the same
2020 February 20
A Zen student asked how long it would take to gain enlightenment if he joined the temple.
"Ten years," said the Zen master.
"Well, how about if I work really hard and double my effort?"
2020 February 19
Our ability to make decisions is a superpower to alter the physical world, apparently at will.
Carlo Rovelli: "How can we insert this agency into the general picture of nature?"
Sean Carroll: "Quantum fields don't have any agency. Atoms don't, do bacteria? I don't know, but human beings do. Somewhere along that
continuum it sneaked in."
The aim of physics is to characterise the interaction and evolution of reality's elements through fixed mathematical laws with predictive
power. That mission is ongoing.
Jenann Ismael: "We think of ourselves as coming from outside the causal order and somehow intervening in it, making things happen."
Matt Leifer: "If I'm saying that something doesn't boil down to the laws of physics, then I'm basically positing something supernatural,
that's outside natural laws."
Carroll: "We see agents that make choices and exert a causal influence on what happens in the world, and then science comes along and
says you're actually a bunch of particles or atoms and you're just obeying differential equations. What we want to figure out is how those things
can both be true at the same time."
Emergence is the idea that behavior and properties that are inscrutable when you look at single components of a complex system pop into
existence when you view things as a whole. Agency changes the future, but not the past.
Rovelli: "We do something and then something happens. How do entropy and the second law of thermodynamics come in?"
AR We are not just in the causal order. We are the causal order. We emerge at a macroscopic level to bring the sensorium to
a synthetic unity of apperception. Our separate selves are sparks emitted by the godhead in primal acts of creation. Our personal selfhood is a
corrupt reflection of the divine order. The natural order is the manifestation of divinity. God is all.
Sand blown by storms:
my beach this morning
The Ahuman Manifesto
Insect population decline:
Why you should care
(x2 + ((b + 1)y)2 + z2 − 1)3
− x2z3 − ay2z3 = 0
Parliamentary report on
Russian interference in
UK democracy is yet
to be published
2020 February 18
Boris Johnson has got Brexit done. A US trade deal is meant to be much of the dividend. But the prime minister has just had a row with Donald Trump,
following his decision to let Huawei help build the UK 5G telecom network. America's closest allies don't trust Trump, but Australia and Germany
also see Huawei in their 5G network as a risk. Trump may pursue a UK trade deal — or not. Johnson may now be hoping for a Democrat to win
the US presidential election.
AR Smell the coffee, Boris: the Europeans were good friends.
Dominic Cummings sees the Treasury as a Remainer roadblock to reform. Cummings wants his revolution to reshape the state and tackle the liberal bias
of the establishment. The BBC, the CBI, the civil service, the courts, the military, the universities, and parliament are all on his hit list.
Cummings is no Conservative. His spad Andrew Sabisky is out already.
AR Kick out Cummings too, before he does more damage.
2020 February 17
Cambridge philosophy professor Patricia MacCormack says in her new book that giving birth is "the worst thing you can do" for the global climate
due to human overpopulation. Her take on the responses: "I simply propose people not reproduce .. somehow, I want to kill children, which is
ridiculous. Somehow, I'm proposing eugenics or some kind of ethnic population control .. and I think that what that shows is there is an
anthropocentric — or a human — impulse to read acts of grace as, automatically, acts of violence."
AR Logic says she is right on birth.
Downing Street chief spad Dominic Cummings called for "weirdos and misfits" in a job ad for new spads and then hired Andrew Sabisky, who in 2014
commented on the Cummings blog: "One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally
enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty. Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue."
AR I too say it will come to this.
2020 February 16
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has problems. Traditional voter milieus are eroding, their core supporters are dying off, coalitions are becoming
more difficult to assemble, and old convictions no longer apply.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) is stepping down as party leader and designated successor to Angela Merkel as chancellor in the wake
of CDU flirtation with the AfD in Thuringia last October.
☆ Friedrich Merz, 64, hopes to take over the CDU and succeed Merkel. He stands for economic liberalism
and social conservatism and appeals to those who want a more authoritarian and masculine style of leadership.
☆ Armin Laschet, 58, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, is widely considered to be angling for the
position as well. He represents a continuation of the Merkel course, which saw the CDU move to the center in recent years.
☆ Jens Spahn, 39, is a candidate from the younger generation who represents a more modern conservatism:
"After so many years of being shaped by Angela Merkel, the CDU must relearn how to walk on its own."
CDU leaders are annoyed by the Values Union, which has opposed CDU policies it sees as too leftist. The Thuringia debacle led to
criticism of the Values Union for weakening resistance to the AfD.
Konrad Adenauer shaped the CDU as a party for mainstream conservatism. His goal was to prevent the rise of a competing nationalist
party. The Values Union says Merkel forgot that goal.
AR I back Merz.
2020 February 15
End of a Union
The UK might come apart.
The reunification of Northern Ireland with the republic seems increasingly likely. Sinn Fein wants reunification and is now a power
in the land.
The Good Friday agreement requires the UK government to call a referendum on the matter when there is reason to believe there is a
majority for reunification.
Ireland is no longer under the thumb of Catholic priests and has become more attractive to normal people in the north. Also,
Westminster has been careless with NI.
Westminster stumbled over the Irish border. It opted to create a hard border in the Irish Sea, which divides NI from Britain and
pushes it toward the republic.
The people of NI and Scotland voted against Brexit. Getting Brexit done was more important to England than preserving the Union.
AR Blame Boris.
Decline of the Novel
Novels were central to Western culture a hundred years ago. They described what seemed the crisis of the modern self. At their highest and most serious
level, they offered solutions.
Today the novel is moribund. Its failure signals an end of confidence in the values and goals of Western culture. The signs of the end
are the dust on the unread books of our library shelves.
With the fading of a temporal horizon, history appears to have no discernible aim. Without goals and reasons, all that remains are past
crimes. Uncompensated by achievement, unexplained by purpose, these sins seem overwhelming.
The novel at its most serious aimed at re-enchantment. It hungered to impart a kind of glow to the objects of the world, standing against
the modern turns to science, government, and economics.
The great purpose of the modern novel was to re-enchant our sense of the world, to knit back together the interior and exterior realities
which our age had split apart.
AR I'm writing a novel now!
2020 February 14
Can Journalism Be Saved?
This century has seen a dramatic economic devastation of journalism.
A number of forces converged to change newspaper journalism. Newspapers became almost entirely economically dependent on advertising.
Newspaper journalists were likely to be college educated and to think of themselves as professionals, but television and radio had eroded their
ability to be the prime deliverers of basic facts about daily events.
When the Internet arrived, many journalists saw it as a potential godsend. A newspaper could reach a much larger audience while shedding
the cost and inconvenience of newsprint. Newspapers could become a free product supported by assembling a mass audience for advertisers.
Google and Facebook found a way to match advertisers with potential customers much more effectively and cheaply than newspapers ever did
or could. They built far larger audiences than traditional media companies would have thought possible, without creating any content on their own.
They were in the distribution business, not the content business.
Journalism has benefited from various forms of subsidy, support, and benevolence. In any other area where something is deemed essential
to the healthy functioning of society, the argument that the best system for providing it is informal voluntary patronage would have no merit.
Journalism needs a more reliable support system to solve the crisis.
AR The crisis affects me personally too.
10 + 11 = 1
Government works better when the chancellor and the prime minister work together. Boris Johnson had no parliamentary best friend to appoint, so No 10
will bring chancellor and PM together by taking over No 11. But the Treasury has shown repeatedly that it is not easily brought to heel.
Rishi Sunak will be an obedient new chancellor. His advisers will merge with those of the PM and come under the control of chief spad Dominic Cummings.
Absolute power now resides in No 10.
AR Will Sunak, like Javid, be "Chino" (chancellor in name only)?
At 39, Rishi Sunak is the first millennial to occupy one of the great offices of state. He has only weeks to pull together his first budget,
scheduled for March 11.
A former financier, Sunak was elected in 2015 as MP for the Yorkshire constituency of Richmond. He became a PPS in 2017
and a junior minister in 2018.
In 2016, Sunak said the UK should leave the EU and set its own immigration rules without favoring EU citizens: "We are discriminating
against countries with whom we have ties of history, language and culture."
The eldest of three children, Sunak was born in Southampton to parents of Punjabi descent. His father was a family doctor and his
mother ran a pharmacy. He was head boy at Winchester College and read PPE at Oxford.
Sunak also took an MBA at Stanford, where he met his wife Akshata Murthy, whose billionaire father founded Infosys. He then worked
at Goldman Sachs, TCI, Theleme Partners, and Catamaran Ventures.
Sunak: "I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian.
I am open about being a Hindu."
AR Sounds good enough for the job.
2020 February 13
UK Cabinet Reshuffle
BBC News, 1313 UTC
Change in the Treasury: Sajid Javid is out as Chancellor of the Exchequer, after rejecting an order to fire his team of aides, saying
"no self-respecting minister" could accept such a condition. He is replaced by Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, just in time
for the budget in March.
AR Sunak comes over as smart.
The New York Times
When senior government officials abuse their power by wielding law enforcement for private ends, whether to attack their enemies or protect their
allies, they strike at the heart of constitutional democracy. The Constitution does not give President Trump the authority to run the Justice
Department like a goon squad at one of his failed casinos.
AR Law is above politics.
The German city of Dresden was destroyed on February 13/14, 1945, when more than a thousand British and American bomber aircraft dropped nearly
four thousand tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. The firestorm engulfed its historic centre and killed some
25,000 people. Every society that engages in a war becomes morally compromised.
AR War is political murder.
2020 February 12
US Presidential Primaries
The New York Times
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has emerged in front in the Democratic Hew Hampshire primary. Two other candidates, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar,
performed well in New Hampshire but have shown little capacity to resonate with nonwhite voters so far. Sanders is a maverick. His early hold on
a fractured primary field is distressing Democrats.
AR Sanders is about as credible as US president as Jeremy Corbyn was as UK prime minister.
Thomas L. Friedman
All it takes to stop Donald Trump is for Democrats to nominate the right person to defeat him.
Russia and China will be voting Trump 2020 for three reasons:
1 Trump keeps America in turmoil and unable to do the hard work to stay on top
2 Trump is so disliked that he can never galvanize a global coalition against them
3 Trump will never challenge them on human rights abuses
Trump is their chump, and they will not let him go easily.
The only candidate on the Democratic side who has the track record, the resources, and the toughness to take on
Trump is Michael Bloomberg.
AR Bloomberg is my pick too.
2020 February 11
Australia, Britain, Canada
In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the "Canada-style deal" that Boris
Johnson described as his goal in the negotiations contained tariffs, quota limits, and stringent level playing field conditions
to ensure high standards.
She was surprised he cited the Australia model: "[The] European Union does not have a trade agreement with Australia. We are
currently trading on WTO terms. And if this is the British choice ... we are fine with that [but] we are agreeing with Australia that we ...
work in a trade deal with them. [The UK] can decide to settle for less, but I personally believe we should be way more ambitious."
In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said: "Wherever possible we will
grant equivalence on particular sectors of the financial industry. That is what we did with Canada, that's what we do with the United States
and Japan, and it works."
AR Boris, end this farce and rejoin the EU asap.
2020 February 10
The New York Times
Parasite won the best picture award. Its director Bong Joon Ho won the best director award. The movie also won the awards
for best original screenplay and best international feature.
Parasite is a remarkable experience, a melancholy ghost story, a tragicomic masterclass, a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains,
a tale of two families from opposite ends of the spectrum.
We first meet the Kim family in their lowly semi-basement home, hunting for stray wifi coverage and leaving their windows open to benefit
from bug-killing street fumigation. They have nothing but one another and a shared sense of hard-scrabble entrepreneurism. So when son Ki-woo is
faced with an unexpected opportunity to home-tutor a rich schoolgirl, he gets his gifted artist sister to forge a college certificate, bluffing his
way into the job and into the home of the Park family.
The Park home is an architectural wonder perched high above the slums of Seoul, with views of luxurious lawns and starlit skies.
While aloof Mr Park is at work, his anxious wife tends to their coquettish daughter and hyperactive young son. Their lifestyle relies upon tutors,
a chauffeur, and a devoted housekeeper. Ki-woo realises that his own family could easily fill such roles, and hatches a plan to inveigle the Kims
into the privileged lives and home of the Parks.
The Kim family are clearly every bit as smart as the Parks. And the Parks are as practised at deception as the Kims. In a stratified
world, Parasite finds hidden depths beneath the surfaces.
Blips in Time
Science is a way of investigating the world that can yield demonstrable truths.
The second law of thermodynamics allows little pockets of order to form so long as they create enough disorder in their environment
to compensate. We release enough heat and waste to tip the overall disorder balance sheet toward disorder.
Life and mind are blips on the cosmic timeline. There is no ultimate answer.
AR Physics nurses the stoic.
Lateral Naval Architects
is believed to have paid $645 million to buy Aqua. The luxury superyacht is 113 m long and has five decks with space
for 14 guests, 31 crew members, plus gym, yoga studio, beauty room, massage parlor, and cascading pool. Down below are
two tanks cooled to 20 K for liquid hydrogen to power the ship when it takes to the seas in 2024.
The New Class War
Image of the Sun taken by the
Inouye Solar Telescope shows
a surface divided into cells
as big as Texas
2020 February 9
The New Class War
Our societies are increasingly divided between globalists and nationalists.
Michael Lind says the postwar compromise reflected in civil rights, trade unions, welfare states, and so on has been torn up.
He blames a new technocratic overclass elite: a university-educated managerial and professional class that leans right on economics and
left on culture.
As this overclass took power, the old compromise was replaced by a technocratic and elitist model. This left most of the population
in Western countries with no voice in public affairs at all, except for shrieks of rage, so populism thrived.
In future, the key divide will be between the ignorant masses and a highly educated liberal elite. This sharp disconnect will pour
gasoline on populist revolts. Either the technocratic elite will push us into a caste society, where winners and losers move further apart,
or the populists will take over.
Lind proposes a return to democratic pluralism.
AR I expect a caste system.
2020 February 8
The New York Times
The Trump administration has bought access to a commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in America and is using it for
immigration and border enforcement. Since that data is available for sale, it seems the government believes that no court oversight is necessary.
The use of location data to aid in deportations demonstrates how out of date the notion of informed consent has become. When users accept
the terms and conditions for various digital products, not only are they uninformed about how their data is gathered, they are also consenting to
future uses they could never predict.
The courts are a ponderous and imperfect venue for protecting Fourth Amendment rights in an age of rapid technological advancement.
AR Corporations must not become tools of government.
2020 February 7
A UK Foreign Office memo this week says officials may no longer use the terms "deep and special partnership" (with the EU) or refer to the
"implementation period" (this year) and must describe the outcomes on offer as "Canada" (hard Brexit) or "Australia" (no-deal Brexit).
It says the UK will "restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021" (wave flag). The FO has mobilized language in
a campaign against the British people.
AR FO = Frankly Orwellian
2020 February 6
The New York Times
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered the most harshly partisan State of the Union speech in memory. He hijacked the House chamber,
turning what should be a unifying moment into a campaign rally.
On Wednesday, all Republican senators except Mitt Romney voted to acquit Trump of extorting a foreign government in an effort
to rig the 2020 election and then of obstructing the Congress effort to investigate him.
Unlike the Democratic Party, Trump has a simple, powerful message: In three years, he has brought America back from the disaster
he claimed it was in and set it on a path to a glorious new future.
The November election is a critical opportunity to defend the Republic through the straightforward expedient of voting Trump
AR Vote him out before he wrecks everything.
2020 February 5
The Great American Comeback
In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American Decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America's destiny. We have
totally rejected the downsizing. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never, ever going back!
To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American health care!
AR Nancy Pelosi ostentatiously tore up her copy of the speech.
Whatever He Wants
The Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump is like a bad TV show. Republicans are determined to make this a show trial. The point of the trial is
to vindicate Trumpism.
For Trump, the only force that matters is his own will. The doctrine of his will as the source of all authority must not be undermined
by the trial. The leader is special. He makes the right call.
Democrats have tried to make thinking the wrong thoughts an impeachable offense. Impeachment thus turns on inquiries into the intent
behind lawful conduct. Trump denies the existence of any constitutional limits on his pursuit of his private goals.
The Senate is a court, and Republican senators are the courtiers. It is impertinent for courtiers even to go through the motions of
putting the monarch on trial. If Trump wins a second term, he can do whatever he wants.
AR King Trump has never before looked so ominous.
Heisenberg Limit Updated
Researchers have updated the Heisenberg limit, which sets a limit on measurement accuracy. The limit often cited differs from the correct limit
by a factor of π.
When a physical quantity is measured, its value is initially assigned a probability distribution. In the old "frequentist" approach,
only repeatable random events had probabilities.
A Bayesian approach accepts probabilities representing the uncertainty in any event or hypothesis and attributes a given probability
distribution known as the prior. Assuming the parameter value is fixed lets the Bayesian approach lead to the usual Heisenberg limit. In fact,
no generality is lost by adopting the Bayesian approach.
Previous work also proved the need for an additional factor of π in the Heisenberg limit, but it did not allow for adaptive
AR Good: Bayesian probability has a better rationale than frequentist probability.
2020 February 4
Usual Crap About Brexit
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and prominent Brexiteer Michael Gove: "It is better to have a good trading relationship with the United States,
better to have the best trading relationship with the EU, but most of all it's right to stand up for Britain, and not to accept terms from other
countries, if those terms aren't right for us."
AR For "us" read Gove and his gang of hardline Brexiteers, who don't represent me or most of the businesspeople, academics,
scientists, or young people in the UK. When and how can we (the real "we" for me) pitchfork this Brexiteer incubus off our backs?
2020 February 3
Brexit Trade Deal Warning
The EU warns the UK there will be no extensive trade deal if the UK government insists on diverging from EU standards.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier: "The UK answer will be fundamental to the level of ambition of our future relationship
and the UK must know this. It will be up to the UK to decide."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson: "There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy,
subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar."
British Trade With Chimerica
No notional boost in trade with China or America can compensate for what hard Brexit would cost the economy. No such trade will reflect any increase
in sovereignty. The UK is about to lose the muscle of EU collective negotiation. Any marginal rise in trade with China or America will be strictly
on their terms, a.k.a. vassalage.
British Academy Film Awards
At the BAFTA ceremony last night in the Royal Albert Hall, 1917, directed by Sam
Mendes, won seven awards: best film, director, outstanding British film, special visual effects, cinematography, production design, and sound.
Joaquin Phoenix won the leading actor award for his role in Joker,
which also won awards for casting and original score.
Brad Pitt won the supporting actor award for his role in
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Donald D. Hoffman
Consciousness is fundamental. A conscious agent has experiences and interacts in social networks for which we can build a dynamical theory.
From here we build up theories of learning, memory, problem solving, and so on.
Spacetime has been a foundational assumption in physics. But quantum theory and general relativity indicate that spacetime cannot
be fundamental. Scattering amplitudes for elementary particles can be given simple expressions if you forget about spacetime.
The amplituhedron is a geometric object outside of space and time. The volumes of its various parts correspond to the probabilities
of these scattering events. My aim is to work out how the dynamics of conscious agents can give rise to this amplituhedron.
The behavior of conscious agents depends on their current state. Your current state governs all the probabilities of what you do at
the next decision point. You have only a finite memory to influence your future behavior.
Conscious agents pass experiences back and forth. As the number of interactions goes to infinity, we might get the connection to
physics and the amplituhedron. We need to prove that the asymptotic dynamics of these social networks precisely fits into the structure of the
Realism is the claim that physical objects have definite properties independently of observation. Locality is the additional
assumption that those definite properties have influences that propagate no faster than the speed of light through space. Local realism is
Non-contextual realism is the claim that physical objects have definite properties when they are not observed, and these definite
values do not depend on how you choose to measure them. Quantum theory says this is false too.
I propose that realism is false. What we see is more like a user interface or a virtual reality.
Think about a virtual reality game of tennis. You and a friend both have your headset and body suits on, you see her avatar on a
tennis court, and you start playing. She hits the tennis ball to you, and you hit the same tennis ball back to her, but she is not seeing the
same tennis ball that you see. There is no public tennis ball. A supercomputer is assembling our balls from bits.
Objective reality exists independently of me, but space and time are human forms of perception. Spacetime is emergent,
not fundamental. There is a deeper reality beneath it.
AR The best we can say is that qubits lie deeper. In the beginning was a qubit, and it popped/pops into the reality
of me and my world. Subject and object emerge, and spacetime emerges too from entanglements between qubits.
Timeless beauty outlives human folly: Beach this morning
2020 February 1
Brexit Is Done
Set aside for a moment Vote Leave lies, dodgy funding, and Russian interference. A matter of huge consequence came to be settled by a
first-past-the-post vote and not by a super-majority because the referendum was merely advisory. But then advisory morphed into binding
when populists threw magic dust in our eyes.
There is much that is unjust about the British state, but very little of that injustice derives from the EU. The Brexiteers
persuaded voters to transform our collective fate for a generation. To cause sufficient numbers to believe that the source of all their
grievances is some hostile outside element is the oldest trick in the populist handbook.
English nationalism is championed by a Vote Leave cabinet whose monument will forever be a special kind of smirk, perfected
back in the days of the old Soviet Union. I'm lying, you know I'm lying, I know you know, and I don't give a damn: "The five-week
prorogation of parliament has nothing to do with Brexit."
Most of the electorate did not vote to leave. Most of business, the trade unions, agriculture, science, finance, the arts,
and even MPs were against Brexit. But the government ignored the public interest and shrank behind party cabals and slogans. The magic
dust has blinded reason and diminished our children's prospects.
AR A tragedy of centennial magnitude has come to pass.